I'm in a restaurant. I finish my meal. I go to pay with a credit card and I'm informed that the card reader is not working - can I pay with cash?

I don't carry cash. There's no nearby ATM. So I let them write down my card number, and my phone number.


Is letting them take the CC number and phone number the right thing to do? Can they insist that I do this? Could I insist they send me a bill? I'm assuming there are laws at play here, but I don't know what they are.

  • This doesn't seem on-topic for a site about personal finance May 4, 2011 at 17:44
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    @Jeff. Could you provide more feedback on your concern? Personal credit card use seems a standard topic for a personal finance board.
    – gef05
    May 4, 2011 at 17:46
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    The question has much more to do with laws about notifying customers of available payment methods than "credit card use". May 4, 2011 at 18:25
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    Why can't they pick up the phone and complete the transaction that way? It is not your responsibility to go above and beyond presenting them with a card. If they want your business it is their responsibility. If you give them your CC number any other way you may be violating your CC user agreement and may end up being on the hook for the $'s if there is any problem May 4, 2011 at 18:39
  • @Jeff. I'm not seeing it, but let's see what the community does with it, they may agree with your interpretation. @Ralph. Good thought about potential CC user agreement issues. Thanks both.
    – gef05
    May 4, 2011 at 20:23

3 Answers 3


Simple answer - they are obligated to do it manually. When they show the logo on their door, you are obliged to produce a valid card with sufficient credit line, the rest is on them.

Page 21 of Visa rules for Merchants spells out what the store is supposed to do if the terminal's reader isn't working. Nowhere in the document does it say the merchant can just insist on cash.

  • Where did you learn this? A supporting reference of some kind would make this a great answer. ;-) May 4, 2011 at 22:45
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    Interesting. Also, on page 97 they make specific reference to "using a manual imprinter" - and as they didn't have one it sounds like they made their problem mine.
    – gef05
    May 4, 2011 at 23:34
  • And tonight you read my mind JT. :)
    – mbhunter
    May 5, 2011 at 0:13
  • An interesting question with an enlightening answer :)
    – ASF
    May 5, 2011 at 6:16
  • The 'Visa rules for Merchants' seems to have disappeared from the internet. A copy would be useful. Anyways, I had to return empty handed from Walmart when their card POS failed this evening. They refused all payments except cash and check. I had offered them an IOU with my number and address but they didn't budge. This was before I read this answer. Jan 27, 2012 at 7:58

This is a situation where discretion matters -- quoting Visa merchant rules to an assistant manager who isn't empowered to do anything isn't really going to help you much.

I would offer to write a promissory note on a piece of paper with my name, address and phone number promising to pay within 2 weeks, and ask them to call me when the machine is fixed. Giving them a credit card number and phone number does nothing for either party.

The key is in the delivery, if you come off like a jerk, you're going to end up in a mutally crappy situation.

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    This is good real-world advice.
    – Sean W.
    May 5, 2011 at 16:24

First, yes, letting them write down the credit card number, and your phone number, is the right thing to do. There isn't anything that they can improperly with the two of them that they couldn't do with just the credit card number itself. And having the credit card number written down is no riskier than giving it to someone to process in the back room (they can not only write down whatever they want, but they can also use a small machine to improperly read all the data on the magnetic strip.) So you're at no more risk here, if that's a concern, by providing a phone number as well as the card number. (Personally, if I were the restaurant, I'd ask for a driver's license or other ID as well, but that's just me.)

Second, it's your obligation to figure out how to pay the bill. When you walked in, you presumably thought there were two choices, cash and credit card, and you planned to use the latter. That the restaurant wasn't able to process your card electronically in no way invalidates the second option: you could still pay by credit card. They can quite properly insist that you either (a) pay cash) or (b) give them your credit card, since you knew - going into the restaurant - that those were your two choices. If they had said, for example, that your two choices were (a) cash and (b) dishwashing for several hours, then of course you have an issue (particularly if you did not have any cash on hand or in the bank). So, in summary, no harm, no foul.

  • This seems reasonable, especially compared to a manual swipe machine. But does the electronic reader really give them access to the account number, or just the last digits and some transaction ID?
    – MrChrister
    May 7, 2011 at 19:38
  • @MrChrister I would assume that they have access to the information encoded in the magnetic stripe on the card, which includes the card number. It would certainly be possible and desirable for the POS equipment to handle the transaction without providing the card number to the merchant. However, the backup for problems reading the mag stripe is entering the card number manually. Regardless, if we are talking about just a card reader, the information on the mag stripe is certainly available to them. May 7, 2011 at 21:02

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